Athens Launching New Initiative For Mental Health Emergencies

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Going to the hospital is often the best option when you have a health emergency, but when it comes to a mental health crisis this can bring more harm than good.

Starting this summer in Athens, people with mental health emergencies will not automatically be taken to a hospital, which has been the policy.

City Council member Ben Ziff, who used to be a paramedic in Columbus and Zanesville, expressed support for this new initiative at a recent council meeting, and explained why the current approach has its flaws.

“These patients are away from their family, and their mental health would just spiral downwards. Patients would lash out at me, and I couldn’t blame them for that,” Ziff said. “I’m the one that’s sticking you with a needle trying to be as nice as possible, but they’re alone in a cold room and are having a really bad day. Anything that might’ve been is gone and it’s all downhill from here.”

Of the 3,000 mental health crises in 2019, only 25% were severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room but ended up there anyway due to the existing protocol.

The new initiative sends a mental health clinician from Hopewell Health Center alongside a paramedic to meet the needs of the patient right on the spot, and eliminates the hospital visit altogether and only sends the patient to the hospital if it is deemed necessary.

The hope with this plan is that it won’t only be more beneficial to the patients but also benefit the first responders.

“It’ll be more efficient for our law enforcement partners,” Diane Pfaff, executive director of the 317 board, said. “They’re normally first on the scene when a crisis occurs; they’ll be able to call in the mobile crisis team when the situation is stabilized. The team will be able to spend more time and do all the follow-up services right there.”

This approach to helping people on the scene in a more personal way will eliminate a lot of unnecessary hospitalizations.

“This prevents an over diagnosis. Sometimes it’s way too many resources being devoted to these situations that can be handled on a smaller scale,” Ziff said. “If we can prevent that from happening to one person, I’ll be happy.”

Pfaff said that the staff has been hired and are beginning to train, and she expects the new initiative to rollout later this summer.